Insights and Inspiration
Boy Meets Girl
13 March 2019
Family law is, more than any other area of law, concerned with the intricacies and the varied forms of human relationship. Yet the law, over and over again, has to cast these varied relationships into patterns which they sometimes fit very poorly.
We have previously reported on the difficulties the courts have had in defining and characterising de facto relationships. The Family Law Act contains an exhaustive definition, but because describing human relationships is so inherently difficult, cases frequently come along that test the boundaries. One such was the case of Weldon and Levitt in 2017.
The man in this case said that a de facto relationship existed between him and the woman, for over 13 years. What was undoubted was that the parties had two children of their relationship, that they lived together on a few occasions during that period that they knew each other, approximately 16 years, that they had no joint bank accounts and did not mix their finances, and that importantly, the woman applied for Centrelink benefits and received them, without telling Centrelink that she was in a de facto relationship. Moreover, in applying for child support, the woman said that the parties were not in a de facto relationship.
The man ran his case on the basis that there never was a mutual commitment to a shared life, and that they were merely boyfriend and girlfriend, and got together on ad hoc basis casually in the course of their sexual relationship, and socialised together only occasionally though they took a holiday together in 2013. They had no financial relationship.
In an old case called Elias a judge of the Family Court said that you can't lie to a government authority and get benefits, and then want to tell the court something else. You were bound by what you told the government authority. On that basis, the woman's case would be doomed because she had told Centrelink that she was single and got benefits from that. More recently, the Family Court said that what you tell a government authority is one of the factors that a court must take into account, but would not be conclusive in the way that the Elias case indicated.
In this case, despite the children, despite the duration of the relationship, the court was satisfied that no de facto relationship existed and that it was one comparable to a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship.
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